Chemical atlas, or the chemistry of familiar objects: exhibiting the general principles of the science in a series of beautifully colored diagrams, and accompanied by explanatory essays embracing the latest views of the subjects illustrated.

New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1855.

First edition of this rare and beautifully printed nineteenth-century American scientific atlas. “This chemistry textbook was a pioneering publication in the use of color to convey quantitative information” (Reese). Youman’s Chemical Atlas is a remarkable example of mid-19th century American scientific book printing in which the elements and principles of chemistry are represented by coloured diagrams and symbols. Differing compounds are depicted with red, brown, and black printed blocks, finished by hand, resulting in a striking and effective display of information. The Atlas was a pioneering publication in the use of colour to convey quantitative information. It is reminiscent of the famous Byrne Euclid published just seven years earlier in England and it is quite possible that Youmans, a leading American interpreter and educator of scientific knowledge, was influenced by it. This beautiful book is scarce and little known. “Edward Youmans, an American scientific writer, was born June 3, 1821. Youmans suffered from ophthalmia and was nearly blind for much of his life, but he was a self-taught lover of science who came to believe that the American public was being denied part of its heritage with a lack of education in the sciences. So in 1872, Youmans founded Popular Science Monthly, the first magazine intended to provide scientific information for the general public. It was astonishingly successful, contrary to the expectations of most publishing gurus of the time, with a circulation of up to 18,000 during Youmans’ 15-year tenure as editor. One of the most frequent writers for the Monthly was the sociologist Herbert Spencer; indeed, it was through Youmans’ magazine that Spencer became so famous in the United States” (Linda Hall).

Provenance: From the library of James Galbrith with his presentation to Mary Garnett dated September 8, 1856.

“Youmans (1821-87) went to New York City in 1840 for treatment of his eye problem. After some time in an infirmary, he boarded with printers who read to him from the latest works. Finally he found a home with a Quaker family, where he resided for many years. In New York, he got to know Horace Greeley, Walt Whitman, and William Henry Appleton. In 1845, his sister, Eliza Ann Youmans, became his reader and amanuensis, and with her aid he undertook the study of chemistry and physics. In 1851, while studying agricultural chemistry, he prepared a Chemical Chart which won such favor that the next year he published a Class-Book of Chemistry. From that time on, he devoted himself to popularizing science. He studied medicine during this period and received the degree of M.D. from the University of Vermont.

“He started lecturing on science in 1852, and for the next 17 years he gave courses of lectures in connection with the lyceum system in many towns and cities, awakening deep interest in scientific subjects. In his lectures on the ‘Chemistry of the Sunbeam’ and the ‘Dynamics of Life’, he was the first to expound popularly the doctrines of the conservation of energy and the mutual relation of forces.

“After his marriage in 1861, his wife’s literary abilities were put to use in Youmans’ editorial and promotional activities. Early on Youmans became deeply interested in the diffusion of standard scientific works in the United States, particularly those on evolution philosophy. He republished such works in the United States, and did all he could through the newspaper and periodical press to make them known to the public. Herbert Spencer's books alone, on behalf of which he spared no effort, reached a sale of 132,000 copies by 1890, and the foreign authors whose works he used for years enjoyed, by voluntary arrangement with the D. Appleton & Company, the benefits of international copyright, of the justice and need of which Youmans was from the beginning of his literary life an ardent advocate.

“Youmans started the ‘International Scientific Series’ in 1871, by means of which works by the greatest scientists of all nations were published simultaneously in the principal modern languages. Arrangements were made for the publication of works in New York, London, Paris, and Leipzig, and afterward in St. Petersburg and Milan. The project was based on the idea of payment to authors from the sale in all countries. By 1888, the series had reached its 64th volume.

“In 1872, Youmans founded Popular Science Monthly magazine, which he edited until his death. The 28 volumes issued under his care show a devotion to the spread of scientific thought upon the chief topics of the time. His enthusiastic nature led to constant overdoing, and the strain affected his strength years before his death. From 1882, his lungs were seriously affected, but he worked on persistently until early in 1886” (Wikipedia).

“His Chemical Chart ‘which is adapted to the Author’s Class-Book,’ according to the publishers, ‘accomplishes, for the first time, for chemistry, what maps and charts have long done for geography, geology, astronomy etc., by presenting a new and valuable method of illustration. Its plan is to represent chemical composition to the eye by colored diagrams, so that the numerous facts of proportion, structure, and relation, which are the most difficult in the science, are presented to the mind through the medium of vision, and may thus be easily acquired and long retained. It is invaluable as an assistant to public lecturers, to teachers, and for reference in families.’

“Outlined according to the binary, or dualist, theory then prevailing in the chemical world, it diagrammed the principal elements, binary compounds, salts, minerals, and the more important organic bodies. Different colors illustrated the atomic weights of the various elements and the composition of the more familiar compounds.

“The famous Asa Gray wrote, ‘It seems to me that it so simplifies the subject, that pupils in the classes in our common schools may acquire from a few lessons, with this aid, more knowledge of the laws and principles of the science, than from months of study without such means of illustration,’ and the superintendent of the New York community schools testified, ‘I know of no other chart like this; and as by its means Chemistry may now be taught with the same facility as geography or astronomy, I would earnestly recommend it to the attention of school committees, teachers, and learners.’

“The success of the Chemical Chart suggested its amplification in book form, and in 1854 [sic] Youmans accordingly published The Chemical Atlas. ‘The application of the diagram is here much extended, occupying 13 plates in 16 colors, and accompanied by 100 quarto pages of beautifully printed explanatory letter-press.’ Elementary chemistry, chemistry of geology, homologous series of compounds, nitrogenized and non-nitrogenized principles of food, isomerism, and the theory of compound radicals were all illustrated. The processes of combination, respiration, penetration, and the chemistry of light (‘solar dynamics’) were also graphically presented. These two works are original and ingenious examples of modern visual-teaching methods” (Haar, pp. 207-208).

Reese, Nineteenth Century American Color Plate Books 82. Haar, ‘E. L. Youmans: A Chapter in the Diffusion of Science in America,’ Journal of the History of Ideas 9 (1948), pp. 193-213.



Large 4to (308 x 257 mm), pp. 106, with 13 plates including 1 double-page colour printed woodblock with added hand-colouring (occasional browning). Original blind-stamped pebbled cloth, gilt lettering (covers slightly faded with a couple of stains, endpapers browned).

Item #5622

Price: $6,000.00

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